Hiking and Camping: The Great Wall of China

Posted by on Jul 31, 2016 in China | 25 Comments

camping great wall of china

You’ll never guess the last place I went camping… The Great Wall of China!

Crowds are something that you just have to deal with in China. Whether they be outside museums and attractions, or inside subway stations, there’s no escaping the masses of people in this country – up to 1.5 billion locals and countless tourists. When I came to China, I knew that I’d have to do a certain amount of crowd-standing and pushing in, and I looked on it as all part of the cultural experience.

camping great wall of china

But one thing that I really didn’t want to have to battle through the crowds for was my trip to the Great Wall of China. It’s somewhere that has always enthralled me; I’ve always been amazed at the spine of the architectural marvel traversing hill after hill ending (or beginning?) with the Jiayuguan Fortress, and I knew that I wanted to experience and admire this crowd-free.

I’d seen that (in)famous picture of thousands of tourists crammed into one section of the Great Wall, and I’d heard about how busy certain parts of China’s most famous tourist attraction can get. Is there any way to see the Great Wall of China crowd-free? I wondered.

Luckily, I stumbled upon this great article about how to see the wall crowd-free by Thrifty Nomads. They explain the best ways to enjoy the famous wall without thousands of other people clambering for the same view.

While reading through the article, one link in particular caught my eye – Camping the Great Wall of China. Intrigued, I clicked through to China Hiking’s website to see what this entailed.

It promised a 10 kilometre trek on the Great Wall of China, camping overnight after hiking up to an unrestored section of the Great Wall that isn’t open to the public and traversing the unrestored wall itself. After the overnight stay it promised a leisurely amble back down in the morning, and three authentic meals included in the price. DSC_1553 (1)

After hiking Acatenango volcano in Guatemala last year, I decided that there was no way it could be any worse than that, and pressed the ‘Book Now’ button.

Hiking Jiankou, an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China

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Jiankou is a tough section of the Great Wall of China. It’s also not really accessible to tourists; a family own the section of wall, and you can only really get to it if you’re with a guide who has an arrangement with them.

Do you know what this means? Glorious, uninterrupted wall bliss.

The catch? Hiking to an unrestored section of the wall, like Jiankou, is not easy. I thought it couldn’t be harder than my insanely difficult volcano hike. It was definitely different to the hike, and was less of an ordeal because it was a lot shorter, but the overwhelming heat and the fact that I was carrying about 7kgs of camping gear certainly did not make it easy!

However, the extremely challenging hike only lasts for an hour or so. And while it was difficult, it was never completely unbearable; mainly because we were all spurred on by the view that promised us at the top.

And it was certainly all worth it. After the incline, we finally turned a corner to see the watchtower that we’d been keeping an eye on suddenly a great deal closer, and after a few dozen more steps, we were at its entrance where we could clamber into the watchtower itself, drop our bags and climb to the top.

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Here’s where we were greeted with one of the most fascinating architectural feats of the 15th and 16th century; the majestic wall spanning up and down hills, as far as the eye could see. And just as China Hiking had promised, it was deserted. The only people within viewing range were our tour group, and the wall itself was completely unrestored; as if the last people to be there were those from the Ming Dynasty over 500 years ago.

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Hiking the Great Wall of China with China Hiking

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I couldn’t have wished for a better company for my hiking and camping experience on the Great Wall of China. From the moment I met the guides at the allocated meeting point, the entire day ran with the highest professionalism and care. Our guides, John and Jamie, supported us throughout the hike, made safety the highest priority and gave us interesting facts about the wall, with lots of jokes thrown in along the way!

camping great wall of china

Included in the price was a delicious lunch at a restaurant near the wall, a well-deserved dinner on the wall itself and breakfast the next day at a local B&B. We were certainly well fed, and it was great to have the opportunity to eat at these local restaurants and try authentic food.

One last thing that really impressed me about China Hiking was their dedication to preserving the Great Wall. Our guides made sure that we left the wall without a trace and ensured that we all cleared up any rubbish from the night. This helps keep the wall great and it’s great to see a company with such an emphasis on this!

Camping the Great Wall of China

camping great wall of china

Camping on the Great Wall of China is not an experience that I’ll be forgetting in a hurry! After we had hiked for 8km we reached a watchtower where we pitched up our tents and got ready for a night in the wilderness of the wall.

camping great wall of china

While our dinner was being prepared by our wonderful guides, the sky started to darken ever so slightly and one of the group members felt a solitary drop of rain. Soon, we heard a faraway rumble of thunder, which then evolved into a furious thunderstorm. The sky would illuminate each time lightning struck, and was always followed by the ominous groan of thunder.

The rain was falling sideways into the tunnel; and we had to edge around a corner to keep dry. I felt a mix of amazement and fear, but gleefully knew that this would be one of my most unforgettable nights in China. How many people can say that they’ve sheltered from a thunderstorm while camping on the Great Wall?

camping great wall of china

The thunderstorm passed as quickly as it had came on, and soon we were laughing about it all over a delicious plate of noodles and vegetables. After the thunderstorm, it cleared enough for us to have a campfire outside, where we roasted marshmallows, sung songs and drank; in the cloudless sky we could even see some star constellations!

camping great wall of china

We retired to our tents eager to wake up for 4:40am and potentially catch a sunrise. After my alarm went off at 4:30, I clambered out of my tent to be greeted warmly by a load of mist. The sunrise looked very unlikely, but I decided to climb to the top of the watchtower and admire the view nonetheless.

Even though the sky just lightened its greyish shade rather than boasting a spectacular sunrise, the wall being gradually more and more lit up was a marvellous sight. I was quite alone as I stared over section after section of the wall; and felt in wonderful harmony with everywhere around me.

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It was soon time to return to the hustle and bustle of central Beijing and continue my Chinese adventure, which no doubt was to include more queuing and crowding! But I am extremely grateful to have been able to explore such an unfrequented part of the Great Wall.

camping great wall of china

Despite the lack of the sunrise and the somewhat scary thunderstorm, my night at the Great Wall was pretty perfect; which was all thanks to my excellent guides from China Hiking. If you’re thinking of doing any hikes in this country, do get in touch with these guys to see what they have to offer – you can visit their website here!

This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m just writing about these guys because they’re so awesome. Thanks again for an amazing trip!

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Did you know you can go camping on the Great Wall of China? Here's the best way to do it

25 Comments

  1. Heather C
    July 31, 2016

    Wow, what an incredible place to camp! I didn’t even realise expeditions like this were possible to the Great Wall and like you assumed it would be one massive queue jostle, but this looks fab. Definitely bookmarking for later!
    Heather C recently posted…LUSH solid shampoo review and giveawayMy Profile

  2. Rebecca
    July 31, 2016

    Wow, what an incredible experience! So great to be able to see the wall so personally without all the crowds!

  3. Juliette @ Snorkels to Snow
    August 1, 2016

    What an awesome experience! And what a great idea to be able to see the wall without all the crowds! How incredible also to camp overnight!
    Juliette @ Snorkels to Snow recently posted…9 SURPRISING THINGS ABOUT FIJIMy Profile

  4. Tarah Vongbouthdy
    August 1, 2016

    This is an awesome! What a great place to camp! Would definitely like to camp there if I ever go back!

  5. Conor
    August 1, 2016

    I don’t think jealous is a strong enough word Claire! I didn’t even realise you could camp in the Great Wall! I think this is defo going on my list of travel plans for the next year or two. The mist makes it look even more amazing. For all you know you could be time travelling back hundreds of years 😀

  6. melody pittman
    August 2, 2016

    You had such an amazing adventure! What a way to explore one of the most amazing sites in the world! Well done!

  7. Izzy
    August 2, 2016

    This is so sick!!! I am set to see the Great Wall of China before I leave for the States but I cannot handle crowds so this is just a great alternative, plus camping on the wall is something I’ve never seen done. So excited to have stumbled upon this information! Pinning right now!

  8. Theresa
    August 2, 2016

    What an amazing adventure that must have been. After reading your post and seeing your photos (FYI, some are sideways) I think I’ll be adding that to my bucket list. Great post!
    Theresa recently posted…Unique Stays for Solo Budget TravelersMy Profile

  9. sher
    August 2, 2016

    wow camping inside seems so fun! i just did a day trip to visit.

    Sher
    http://www.shershegoes.com

  10. Travelling Tom
    August 2, 2016

    Wow! I wasn’t even aware that was possible! Seeing the Great Wall is on my bucket list, but I think I may have to change it to include camping now!

  11. Vyjay
    August 3, 2016

    This is really amazing, I had always heard stories of the Great Wall being flush with tourists and nothing like what we see in pictures. it is great to read that you actually camped there and also didn’t encounter crowds.
    Vyjay recently posted…5 Indian Desserts That Will Have You SalivatingMy Profile

  12. Global Brunch
    August 3, 2016

    This experience sounds incredible and certainly much more enjoyable than standing in a line for hours. If I get to go to the Great Wall one day, this would be what I would choose.

  13. Claire
    August 13, 2016

    I had no idea you could camp on the great wall of china! How amazing is that! Sounds like so much fun. Hope to be able to do it myself one day. Thanks for sharing
    Claire recently posted…What To Expect From Your Open Water Diving CourseMy Profile

  14. Claire
    August 13, 2016

    It was one of the best experiences of my life! Definitely do it if you get the chance. Let me know if you have any further questions!

  15. Kristine Li
    August 27, 2016

    Wow, what a memorable experience! I can’t believe you guys hiked through that wilderness in the photo, unbelievable (in a good way). And the overnight camping, awesome!
    Kristine Li recently posted…My semi attempts to lead a ‘digital nomadic lifestyle’My Profile

  16. Claire
    August 29, 2016

    It was so cool, and slightly scary at the same time haha! The camping was one of the best things I’ve ever done, highly recommend it if you’re ever this way 😀

  17. Jazzy
    September 28, 2016

    Now this is something I would love to do! Totally Jealous! Hopefully I get the opportunity to do this soon!!!!

    P.s. I appreciate you not finding polish (great weather) pics of the wall and showed it as you experienced it, in a “crappy” weather, which is something a lot of bloggers don’t do! Thanks for that 🙂
    Jazzy recently posted…Backpacking Venice on a BudgetMy Profile

  18. Mary Jane
    January 29, 2017

    I personally love to go camping and hiking at Great Wall of China. It is a very beautiful place for hiking in my opinion. The atmosphere is so pure in the early morning. Taking a deep breathe is always a good way to start a day. Recomended for any one who wants to be a part of nature.

    Thank you for sharing this list and please keep it up.

  19. Dennis L. Ward
    April 25, 2017

    Mutianyu offers great views of the wall and a not so crowded walk. You can go up/down using the cable car or combine the cable car with the toboggan which is super fun!

  20. Claire
    April 25, 2017

    I heard about the toboggan! That’s a really unique way to get down haha. Maybe I’ll visit Mutianyu if I’m ever back in Beijing, because you can go there independently can’t you?

  21. Carl
    May 15, 2017

    Wow! Amazing pictures! I would have never thought that it is possible to camp on the Great Wall, but it makes perfect sense.
    It looks so perfect and untouched on your pictures. I can really see the lives, labour and sweat it took to build this huge Wall.
    I have to say, you were brave to go so close to the edge, I would never have the courage to do that. One bad step, and you can find yourself in the deep! 🙂

  22. Joan Torres
    July 6, 2017

    That’s a very good way of getting off the beaten track in China! I also agree that one of the downsides of China is that you find tourists (especially locals) absolutely everywhere and also, I hate that the authorities like to put a fence around any natural beauty! It seems that this hiking/camping experience avoids all this kind of stuff. Thanks for the idea, will do it for the next time 😉
    Joan Torres recently posted…The art of the Palestinian scarf: Visiting the kuffiya factory in HebronMy Profile

  23. Claire
    July 6, 2017

    It was possibly the quietest I’ve ever seen China haha! Definitely a great way to see some of the authentic heritage 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  24. Kate
    July 8, 2017

    Hi Claire

    Would like to know how much is the entrance to simply go inside the great wall of china and if I were to camp there would you know how much will it cost?

  25. Claire
    July 8, 2017

    Hi Kate, thanks for your comment! The Great Wall of China is divided into many sections and the costs vary from section to section. The only way to access Jiankou, this area of the wall, is by private tour (this part of the wall is actually owned by local farmers and the tour operator knows them, which is how they get access). It cost me 999 yuan for the tour – but this included wall access, camping supplies, 3 meals, transport and an amazing guide so I was more than happy with it! Badaling and Mutianyu are the most popular (and busiest) areas of the Great Wall, but also will be the cheapest to visit. Here’s some information about Mutianyu https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/scene/beijing/mutianyu.htm I hope that helps!

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